Bernhard Schimpelsberger – Glansvit

Releasing on Phantom Limb’s new soundtrack imprint Geist im Kino, Austrian composer Bernhard Schimpelsberger’s score to the Swedish ballet production of Glansvit is an emotional and affecting work. Glansvit was originally written in 1883 by Swedish writer Alfhid Agrell. It’s a tragic tale, wherein a white reindeer, fiercely beautiful and born into a tribe of black reindeer, becomes the subject of persecution and imprisonment. The spiral continues, and eventually, after much heartache, she ends her own life. This isn’t a spoiler: Schimpelsberger informs the listener right from the opening. It’s clear that something is going awry, even in the sustained note and the wavering, isolated strings.

The score heaves with tension, carrying the weight of anguish, despair, and excruciating pain on its back, but it also displays the polar opposite with a generous selection of lighter interludes and optimistic leaps. Initially, the strings shriek before suddenly facing the guillotine, ending abruptly and with great force, but tender, sensitive moments are left to hang within the overall narrative, and it perfectly complements the artistry of ballet: nimble, able to reverse into the slowest of slow motion, and thoroughly inhaling the atmosphere. An immense amount of pressure weighs down the score, but lone, spritely strings elevate the music, raising Glansvit’s head and displaying her beautiful features for bare seconds and quick glimpses at a time, as if alerted to a nearby sound or an approaching threat. Nevertheless, these quicker strings skip through the forest and mirror the fleeting movements of ballet.

Equality and discrimination are trending topics – and nothing has changed there. Pressing in its relevance, the music is still able to point back to 1883 thanks to its mystical and ancient tonality. Voice, strings, and percussion all bleed into one another to create a soundtrack of tension, intensity, and impending threat, but also one of legend and fighting spirit. A quieter land, perhaps, but one in which outcasts are still rejected. Some may say that she was defeated, but she displayed a steely resolve and in a strange, upside-down way, her death was more like a victory. Schimpelsberger says of Glansvit ‘…she was a princess with stunning beauty…a radical freedom fighter who decided to commit suicide as a protest to her imprisonment’.

The natural beauty of northern Sweden, where the slow-glow dancing of the Northern Lights produces another timeless ballet – this time in the air, its aura swaying among a scattering of stars – enters the music through the greying, older strings. Howls and ululations litter the forest, as does the tribal, almost-Eastern use of percussion, which is deep and hypnotic, swaying like a charmed cobra, transcending time.

Closing track ‘The Festival’ features the singing of Swedish folk song historian Ulrika Bodé, and it ends the album on an energetic note. The strings are like daggers, cutting into the core of the piece, and the track becomes a strange, intoxicating hybrid. The vocals are as old as a pagan ritual, and it feels like a celebration, even as Glansvit stares death in the face.

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